Following intense media attention, officials in Houston, Texas, appear to be backing away from a sweeping subpoena seeking church communications and sermons from five faith leaders who are affiliated with activists opposed to the city's controversial equal rights ordinance.
After demanding "all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession," Parker and city attorney David Feldman appear to be backing down.
Parker went as far as to call the subpoena "overly broad," with both the mayor and Feldman seemingly admitting that they believe the language is problematic, as the Houston Chronicle reported.
"There's no question the wording was overly broad," Parker said during a press conference Wednesday. "But I also think there was some deliberate misinterpretation on the other side."
Watch a portion of the press conference below:
Parker and Feldman also said that the subpoena came from pro bono attorneys handling the case and not directly from the mayor's office as some have claimed. Both contend that they found out about it this week, though the city attorney had been quoted Tuesday defending the court document.
"Let me just say that one word in a very long legal document which I know nothing about and would never have read and I'm vilified coast to coast," Parker said during the press conference. "It's a normal day at the office for me."
As TheBlaze previously reported, Feldman told KTRK-TV earlier this week that he believed that the gathering of signatures at local churches against the equal rights ordinances makes examining sermons an entirely appropriate response.
“If they choose to do this inside the church, choose to do this from the pulpit, then they open the door to the questions being asked,” he told the outlet.
Feldman also said on a separate occasion, “If someone is speaking from the pulpit and it’s political speech, then it’s not going to be protected.”
But on Wednesday, Feldman said that the word "sermons" was a distraction and that he would not have worded the subpoena in the same way had he composed it, according to the Houston Chronicle.
"It's unfortunate that it has been construed as some effort to infringe upon religious liberty," he said.
And hours before the press conference, Parker took to her Twitter account to seemingly defend the inclusion of sermons in the subpoena, writing, "If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?"
If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?-A— Annise Parker (@AnniseParker) October 15, 2014
This is just the latest development in an ongoing battle over the equal rights ordinance.
As TheBlaze previously reported, following the ordinance's passage in May, faith leaders decided to collect signatures to get the provision on a November ballot in an effort to strike it down; they ended up with more than the 17,269 required names.
But after the city examined the documentation to see if signatories were Houston residents and had signed relevant pages — requirements for petitioning — they subsequently rejected a substantial number of the signatures, derailing activists’ attempts to bring the ordinance to a public vote.
Activists and faith leaders responded by suing the city, which is what, in turn, led officials to subpoena documents — including sermons — from some of the houses of worship linked to activists who have vocally opposed and worked against the ordinance. Read more of the background information here.
It is currently unclear whether the subpoena will be dropped, but Parker said that the language will "be clarified."
(H/T: Houston Chronicle)